Watch the spectacular show from our lookouts, beaches and cruises.
The whole coastline of NSW is prime whale-watching territory from May to November each year and the Barrington Coast offers some of the best spots to see these beautiful creatures.
More than 30,000 whales make their way along the Humpback Highway, and you can watch the spectacular show from our lookouts, beaches and cruises.
Whale watching on the Barrington Coast
From May to November each year, the Barrington Coast transforms into a whale watching hot spot, with vast numbers heading north to breed after a summer spent feeding in Antarctic waters. On their return journeys at the end of the season you’ll see new calves accompanying their mothers.
Humpback and southern right whales are most commonly seen migrating up and down the coastline and they are some of the most magnificent and recognisable species gracing our oceans today. Here’s how to see them:
- Amaroo Cruises, Forster
- Forster Fishing Charters, Forster
- Free Spirit Cruises, Forster
- Reel Ocean Adventures, Tuncurry
- Crowdy Bay Charters, Crowdy Bay
Good viewing spots
- Diamond Head Loop, Crowdy Bay National Park
- Mermaid Lookout, Crowdy Bay National Park
- Crowdy Head Lighthouse
- Headland Track, Saltwater National Park
- Headland Lookout, Black Head
- Pilot Hill Lookout, Tuncurry
- Second Head Reserve, Forster
- Bennetts Head Lookout, Forster
- Cape Hawke Lookout, Booti Booti National Park
- Elizabeth Beach picnic area, Booti Booti National Park
- Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse, Myall lakes National Park
- Hole in the Wall picnic area, Myall Lakes National Park
- Yacaaba Headland, Myall Lakes National Park
To get the latest sightings, learn whale facts and plan your next coastal adventure, download the wildaboutwhales app to your mobile device.
About the southern right whale
The southern right whale is a baleen whale and one of three species classified as right whales. This species is easily distinguished from others because of their broad back without a dorsal fin, wide pectoral fins, a long arching mouth that begins above the eye and small rough patches of skin (or callosities) on its large head. Right whales rank only behind the blue whale in sheer body mass.
Right whales were a preferred target for whalers because of their docile nature, their slow surface-skimming feeding behaviors, their tendency to stay close to the coast, and their high blubber content (which makes them float when they are killed, and which produced high yields of whale oil).
Commercial whaling began in Australia in 1820, taking around 75% of the southern right whale population between 1835 and 1845, when the industry collapsed. It took another 90 years before they were officially protected in 1935.
An estimated 12,000 southern right whales are spread throughout the southern hemisphere, compared to an original population before whaling of more than 100,000. However, their numbers are growing at around 7% per annum, which means that sightings are becoming increasingly common, which is all the better for whale watchers!
These days, southern right whales delight whale watchers with their peculiar looks and crowd attracting antics, like breaching and headstands.
About the humpback whale
Humpback whales are the stars of the annual whale migration and are one of the most common whales you will see when whale watching. To view these majestic creatures, see them on their annual migration along the NSW coastline.
Humpback whales are a baleen whale and are renowned for their spectacular behaviour. Humpbacks will leap out of the water, roll in the air with their huge pectoral fins outstretched like wings, and crash noisily back into the water. This is called breaching and scientists are still trying to figure out why humpbacks do this. They might do it to clean pests from their skin or they might simply do it for fun. Humpback whales have a small dorsal fin located nearly two-thirds of the way down their back, and their backs steeply arch as they dive – this is how the humpback got its name and it helps whale watchers distinguish them from other species.
Other distinguishing features include large pectoral fins (which may be up to a third of the body length), and unique markings of black and white on the underside of the tail flukes. These markings are like fingerprints, no two are the same. This fingerprint, or fluke identification, helps researchers identify individuals as they migrate along the coast.
Like other large whales, the humpback was a target for the whaling industry. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, its population fell by an estimated 90% before a 1965 moratorium. While stocks have partially recovered to some 80,000 animals worldwide, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships and noise pollution continue to affect the species.
The male humpback whale is famous for its extraordinarily long and complex songs which travel very far throughout the oceans. These submarine songs, composed by several elements, can last for hours. They are specific to different populations and can be heard hundreds of kilometres away. Scientists think that the humpbacks do this to communicate with other whales and to potentially attract a mate.
Humpbacks have developed a unique method of gathering prey. They release rings of bubbles at depth to capture schools of small fish and then surface mouth-open in the centre of the ring. Cooperative ‘bubble-netting’ also occurs with multiple whales all releasing bubbles and surfacing together.